Editorial – End Game for King Coal


The American coal industry has never been more profitable, and yet paradoxically, has never been more vulnerable. With the rise of coal prices to unprecedented levels, new coal mines of marginal quality are being forced online. The owners are squeezing small profits from big risks. Experts who have observed mine safety budget cuts expect more mine disasters in the near future.
We believe the coal industry’s recklessness and irresponsibility will prove its undoing over the long run. The handwriting is already on the wall. Only a handful of new coal power plants proposed in recent years are under construction. New lawsuits, the collapse of tax incentives, a deepening regulatory nightmare, loss of investor confidence and a rapidly expanding civil rights campaign against mountaintop removal are having an effect. Religious leaders are speaking out, not only on MTR, but also climate change and new power plants. It all adds up to the beginning of the end for King Coal.
Coal industry leaders could have seen it coming years ago, yet they persist in their indifference to the environment, mine safety, public opinion and even their own long term interests. Coal industry leaders still act like old-fashioned coal barons, more comfortable in the 19th century than the 21st. Recently the outspoken president of the Kentucky Coal Association claimed that environmentalists were not telling the truth. “Drinking water sources are not being polluted,” he said. “Appalachian communities are not destroyed.” The West Virginia coal association president said that the coal industry’s real problem was that it was misunderstood and that environmentalists are trying to portray them in a bad light.
These are offensive and disgraceful falsehoods. Real people are suffering needlessly from the coal industry’s cruelty and recklessness.
Environmentalists are watching the train wreck with dismay. In the end, only a healthy, forward looking coal industry, working with labor, is going to be able to gear up the transitions that we Americans agree are needed.
Renewable energy is not a distant dream — it is practical, affordable, and a job-creating bonus for the economy. Big energy companies are welcome to help lead, to follow the nation’s young people, or at the very least, to get out of the way.


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